With the arrival of the summer sunshine, most of us are excited about the prospect of spending time outdoors soaking it all in with family and friends. While this is great for our mental health it does pose some serious risks to our physical health if the necessary precautions are not taken.
Sunlight is a major source of ultraviolet radiation, which in large amounts can damage the DNA of your skin cells by creating mutations (errors in your DNA code). These mutations can lead to unlimited skin cell growth resulting in a mass of cancer cells. South Africa is really sunny and it is therefore not surprising that we have the second highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Anyone, regardless of skin colour, can get skin cancer but the risks are particularly high if you have fair skin, moles, spend a lot of time outdoors or driving, have a family history of skin cancer or if your defense (immune) system is weak from diseases such as HIV.
Thankfully, there is a lot you can do to minimize your skin’s exposure to damaging UV rays by being Sun Smart. Stay out of the sun between 10am to 2pm when the sun is most intense. Use high quality sunscreens that block both UVA and UVB light rays with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Remember to re-apply sunscreen regularly throughout the day and after swimming. Sunscreens are not 100% effective though, so wear wide brimmed hats, long sleeves, pants and sunglasses that block out UV rays. Take special care to keep children protected from the sun and never expose babies to direct sunlight. Tanning beds beam high doses of UV radiation onto unprotected skin and should be completely avoided.
Keeping an eye on your skin is really important. If you notice any new skin growths or changes in moles, freckles or birthmarks, head to the doctor right away to deal with the problem while it is still easily treatable. If you have moles a doctor should check these at least once a year.
All these measures are easily do-able, so lather up the sunscreen, deck yourself out in a stylish hat and summer gear and head off into the sunset without a care in the world.
In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, MediHub cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.